Public Memorials and Reparations

In January 2011, on the heels of Burge's conviction, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), a group of artists, activists, educators, survivors and attorneys, formed to focus on the creation of public memorials, one component of reparations, in the Burge torture cases. From the outset, we grappled with how to honestly and respectfully depict the racist violence inflicted on the survivors and their ongoing suffering, while also giving life to their resilience, resistance and decades of struggle for justice.

After putting out an open call to all justice seekers to submit speculative proposals for memorials, CTJM held numerous events across the City of Chicago--art charrettes, pechakucha presentations, and a round table discussion with the torture survivors--where we confronted new questions and continued to challenge ourselves to imagine, beyond the confines of the law, what true justice would look like for the survivors and all those affected.

A year and half later, in October of 2012, CTJM mounted our first exhibition, entitled "Opening the Black Box: The Charge Is Torture" featuring over 70 of the speculative memorials submitted. They included a wide range of artistic mediums, including architectural proposals, photographs, soundtracks, and sculptures. Lucky Pierre, an art collective, created one hundred direct actions the public could take in response to the torture cases. Teachers and professors submitted their syllabi on how they would teach the Burge torture cases, from high school art classes to college seminars on international human rights. Carla Mayer, a CTJM member, submitted a proposal to add an additional star to the Chicago flag to memorialize the Burge torture cases, which later became the iconic image in the reparations campaign. I submitted a draft of the reparations ordinance as a speculative memorial.

As we continued to reflect on reparations in the Burge torture cases, CTJM focused on international human rights law and the principles of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. We also researched reparations schemes for other gross human rights violations in other countries, looking at redress provided to the survivors of the "Dirty War" in Argentina, those tortured and killed under General Augosto Pinochet's regime in Chile, the torture of the Mau Mau by British colonizers in Kenya, and those torturing in South Africa. We looked to the redress provided to Black survivors of a massacre by a white mob in the Rosewood, Florida in 1923; the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing compensation to the Japanese Americans and Aleut residents who were forcefully detained and/or relocated during World War Two; and the compensation provided to people forcibly sterilized in North Carolina in the 1900s. Relying on these examples as templates and reflecting an input from the survivors and submissions to the art exhibition, I revamped the ordinance, striving to root it in a restorative justice framework.